Minister’s intervention to tackle disability underspend issues welcomed

Health Minister Michelle O'Neill meeting with the Western Learning Disability Action Group in the city last year. Included are Maeve McLaughlin and Sinn Fein Foyle Assembly candidate Raymond McCartney.

Health Minister Michelle O'Neill meeting with the Western Learning Disability Action Group in the city last year. Included are Maeve McLaughlin and Sinn Fein Foyle Assembly candidate Raymond McCartney.

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A move by Health Minister Michelle O’Neill to appoint an independent facilitator following the breakdown of talks over a reported £8m a year underfunding of disability services in the west has been welcomed.

The Western Learning Disability Action Group (WLDAG) has praised the initiative, which will see the new facilitator work with the families and carers of local people with learning disabilities and the Western Health and Social Care Trust.

The WLDAG group withdrew from further partnership working with the Trust

following a meeting in October 2016 with Trust representatives.

That meeting had been held to discuss revelations that Learning Disability Services are being underfunded each year and to determine what steps the Trust had taken to resolve the matter.

The shortfall in funding was announced at a meeting between the Trusts Senior Learning Disability Managers and representatives of a number of parent/ carers groups and community organisations back in March 2016.

According to a report prepared by the Health and Social Care Board, it was identified that there had been consistent underfunding and it is understood that funding that should have been directed to learning disabilities was routinely allocated to other areas of care.

John McCann, a spokesperson for WLDAG said: “We are very pleased with the announcement by the Health Minister, this will allow us to become re-engaged with the Trust and to move forward to address the key issue of ensuring that the £8million annual shortfall is put back into the budget.”

The Minister also announced that her Department will appoint an external consultant to conduct an independent investigation of the capitation variance in the WHSCT’s adult learning disability community services.

John McCann said: “We have asked for an independent investigation into how this shortfall in funding for learning disabilities came about in the first instance and how was it allowed to continue each year for the last 20 years.

“This independent investigation will hopefully get us the answers we want and as importantly allow procedures to be put in place to ensure that this can’t happen again.”

He continued: “During last year we held meetings throughout the Trust area and some of the stories that we heard were heart- rending and the conditions and lack of services for our families which was causing them great distress, so the Minister’s announcements will help us to move forward to get what is rightfully ours.”